[One day], I decided to cut my sons' hair. My 4-year-old sat happily
until I finished with his hair; however, when it was the 6-year-old's
turn he pulled away defiantly. I started to chase after him; his hair
had to be cut! Since he's a lot more agile than I am, I could see it
was a losing battle. Although I could have forced him to sit still, by
threatening or bribing him, I chose not to. Instead, I said, "I'll
tell you what. You stand on a stool by the mirror and I'll only cut
where you tell me to." He thought it was a great idea.
From totally defying me and refusing to have me touch his head, he
stood proudly while directing me where to cut. Now, this may sound
like psychological nonsense to many. Some people may think: "I would
have taken the little brat and walloped him!" True, I could have done
that. I could have beaten him with a strap and tied him to a chair and
then slapped his face each time he moved his head until he held still,
and I would have gotten his hair cut. But I would have lost my
relationship with the child, which is far more important to me.
I don't believe in parents giving in to children, patronizing or
indulging them, whether out of fear of the children's rejection or
because it's often just easier to let them have their way instead of
getting into a power struggle. I do believe that parents should be
sensitive to their children's need for two very important elements for
which we all strive: love and power. My 6-year-old needed to feel a
sense of power. And to get it, he was willing to give up my love for
What I tried to show him was that he could get both at the same time,
which is something very few children know how to do. They either give
up on power and become "goody-goodies" with no sense of their own
strengths or worth, unable to be assertive or express their own views,
always seeking other people's approval and terrified of rejection; or
they become domineering little tyrants, not caring what others think,
focusing on force to get whatever they want. We see these patterns in
many adults: passive doormats or insensitive bullies.
* * *
LOOK AT MY FACE
As parents, we can help prevent these patterns by showing our children
how to be caring, yet assertive, achievement-oriented, yet feeling.
When I discipline my children, I try not to take away their sense of
power and self-esteem. I try to awaken sensitivity rather than force
it upon them.
For example, a friend was over with her four young children. One of
them started playing with a toy, which my 4-year-old promptly grabbed
away. I didn't scold my son. Instead, I said, "Look at Chaim's face.
How does he feel now that you've taken the toy away?" My son looked at
Chaim's face intently and immediately returned the toy. I didn't have
to tell him to do so. On his own initiative, he experienced what the
other child was experiencing, which is a quality that makes us feel
powerful as well as compassionate.
On one of the Jewish fast days, my 6-year-old wanted me to help him
learn to ride his two-wheeler. I just said, "Honey, look at me. Do you
think I can help you now?" Right away, he said, "Oh, I forgot, you're
fasting and weak. Can you read me a book instead?"
Sometimes I'll be schleping bags of groceries home from the market and
one child will say, "Ima, hold this." " All I have to do is say, "Look
at my hands," and they become aware of reality outside of their own
immediate desires. If one says something hurtful to me, all I have to
do is say, "Look at my face. How did that make me feel?" And I can see
in his or her eyes that there is an awareness that I am a human being
with feelings, who is capable of being hurt and deserves to be treated
* * *
When my son pulled away from me after I told him I was going to cut
his hair, it was my turn to look at his face. He was being defiant for
a reason. It suddenly dawned on me that it was his hair, which he
perceived as part of his body, and although I may take hair lightly,
he didn't. It was important for me to show respect for his feelings,
just as I want him to show respect for mine. This doesn't mean that I
had to let him have his way. I had no doubt that his hair would be
cut, one way or another. And I am not above using force and ordering
my children to do things when necessary. But in this situation, it
would have been unnecessary and harmful to use force.
By far, the biggest problem plaguing families (beyond money problems)
is lack of sensitivity to each other's feelings, fears and desires. We
have to take responsibility for helping others become more aware of
our reality. Most people walk around enveloped in a very narrow
cocoon, unaware of anything other than themselves. Some are afraid to
leave that familiar territory and experience what others are
experiencing. They are terrified of intimacy, of anything other than
polite but superficial relations.
We can often help them break out of that shell by letting them know it
is safe to feel and express those feelings. Don't be afraid to tell
someone, "Look at my face. How do you think what you just said [or
did] made me feel?" If the person has any desire or capacity for
compassion, you will notice a look on his face that shows you have
helped him become more aware. You won't have to criticize, yell or
nag; the awareness will come naturally.
[Note: when you say the words "Look at my face," say it softly, with
love, not harshly and bitterly, or you are likely to get an angry,
defensive response instead of regret, love and understanding.]
Excerpted with permission from "LIVING WITH KIDS" - parents at their
best (The Miriam Adaham Handbook). Published by
Targum Press, Inc.